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Where Arsenal’s eight centre-backs stand under Arteta ahead of new season


We’ve all been there on Football Manager. You get a bit excited making new signings and all of a sudden you’d got several players who play in the same position as each other.

It also happens in real life too.

Everton fans still shudder at Ronald Koeman’s 2017 ‘Summer of No.10s’, while Alexis Sanchez might have thought the writing was on the wall at Old Trafford when he arrived and saw Romelu Lukaku, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford.

No wonder he wanted to leave immediately.

Yet there are times when having an abundance of players in the same position is just a consequence of getting new faces in. You want to replace the bad lads with good ones, you just haven’t got the bad ones out of the door yet.

Which brings us to Mikel Arteta and his merry band of eight centre-backs.

Yes, eight.

He’s clearly got a lot of thinking to do

As it stands there are a spider’s legs-worth of footballers in the Arsenal first-team squad who could quite reasonably believe that they should be a starting centre-back for the Gunners.

By the way that’s not including Kieran Tierney who has played there in a three, or Sead Kolasinac and Granit Xhaka who have also dropped in when needed. Mohamed Elneny could do it too.

So what of these eight players then? Where do they stand in the Gunners pecking order?

We’ve taken a look at all of them.

The newest one: Gabriel Magalhaes

The 22-year-old arrived from Lille earlier this month

The fact that the last Ligue 1 season ended early means that Arsenal’s newest arrival is out of match practice, and when you throw in the coronavirus quarantine restrictions he’s had to contend with since signing from Lille then it could be a while before Gabriel is up to speed.

Once he is up and running though, then watch him go.

There was much joy at the arrival of the 22-year-old Brazilian at the club, and once he’s settled then he could become one of the first names on Arteta’s teamsheet.

The exciting one: William Saliba

Saliba is still just 19, and could view this as something of an induction season

All of the excitement around Saliba has to be tempered by the knowledge that he’s still a teenager, and the notion that he would immediately strike up a partnership with Gabriel that Arteta would depend on should probably be parked for a while.

This looks to be a campaign when Arsenal will get the Frenchman on the pitch whenever they can, as whatever experience he picks up he is sure to be valuable.

The Europa League could prove to be a useful breeding ground for him.

The vocal one: David Luiz

Luiz has picked up a neck injury that will keep him out of the start of the season

The restart to the last Premier League season was fairly tame and very controlled, but Luiz still found the time to throw in some slapstick and a very public contract demand.

He got his way in the end too, and what came across was that, despite the obvious and, yes, often frequent errors, he is a character that Arteta values in the dressing room.

That value will only have gone up with the arrival of his good friend and restaurant owning business partner Willian, and while he’ll know all about him, Luiz will also take it upon himself to mentor some of the younger players, particularly the South Americans.

He’s going to miss the first few weeks of the season with a neck injury, but don’t be surprised if he ends up playing more often than not.

The quiet one: Pablo Mari

Mari’s loan deal has now been turned into a permanent transfer

A loan signing in January, Mari managed to make two appearances for the Gunners before football was forced into coronavirus lockdown, before starting the first match back at Manchester City and going off injured after 24 minutes.

He’s not been seen since, adding to a sense that his is a rather hushed presence in the Arsenal defensive conversation.

The Spaniard had certainly shown his worth at previous club Flamengo, excelling in last December’s 1-0 extra-time loss to Liverpool in the Club World Cup final, and having turned that loan into a permanent Arsenal deal he’s clearly someone Arteta wants around, but largely as a squad player.

He’ll have to get fit again first, with a return to training expected later this month.

The old fashioned one: Sokratis Papastathopoulos

The Greek has played 69 times for the Gunners in two seasons

The 32-year-old Greek became a favourite with the Gunners fans for his never-say-die attitude and outward passion at a time when the club were crying out for both.

He’s clearly a fighter with a strong will-to-win, but his lack of pace and ability on the ball are both red flags in the Premier League.

His no-nonsense style has rather quickly become old fashioned under Arteta, and he is widely expected to leave in the coming days and weeks, with Napoli known to be keen.

The one who keeps coming back: Shkodran Mustafi

The German suffered a hamstring injury in the FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City

Seemingly written off more times than a nervous learner driver’s first car, Mustafi made another unlikely return to the fold under Arteta at the back end of last season.

He was playing well too, before a hamstring injury suffered in the FA Cup semi-final win over Manchester City put paid to his season and served as another setback.

He’s not due to return to training until next month at the very earliest, meaning that this will probably be another transfer window in which many expected him to leave but he won’t.

Clearly Arteta still sees something in him, but we might be close to Christmas before we see him in any sort of consistent contention yet again.

The one who you forgot was there: Calum Chambers

Chambers had begun to resurrect his Gunners career before injury struck

After the 2018/19 loan at Fulham there were signs that Chambers was beginning to resurrect his Arsenal career in the first half of last season, playing 18 games in all competitions including 14 in the league, his second-highest total in a Gunners campaign.

Then injury struck in Arteta’s first home match in charge in December.

A devastating ACL rupture wrecked the England international’s season, and it is still set to be some time yet before he can return, with any football before 2021 surely considered a bonus.

The one who isn’t allowed to leave: Rob Holding

Holding started for the Gunners in the Community Shield win over Liverpool

Notice a common thread running through those names above? Yep, a lack of availability.

Arsenal may have a lot of centre-backs but getting them on the pitch is an issue at present, with Luiz, Mari and Chambers all injured, Sokratis almost out of the door and Gabriel still acclimatising.

So step forward Holding.

A loan move to Newcastle had seemingly all been agreed for the Englishman, but he’s now needed at Arsenal and looks set to start at Fulham on Saturday.

Is he perfect? No. But he has shown Arteta he can rely on him with displays like the one he put in in the Community Shield, and he seems set to stick around for the first half of the campaign at least.

Where will Arsenal finish this season? Have your say in the comments below

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